Last year there were 85,891 needles exchanged through the syringe exchange program, administered by the Portsmouth City Health Department. The program has essentially doubled in size from 2014 to 2015.
In 2014, the population of Scioto County was 79,499 people. With 85,891 needles exchanged in 2015, that equates to one needle exchanged for every man, woman and child in the county with 6,392 remaining.
There were 48,261 needles exchanged in 2014 and 85,891 in 2015, according to a report issued by Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen on Services in Review.
The syringe exchange program was started in Portsmouth in 2011 by Bobbi Bratchett, Rural AIDS Coordinator at Portsmouth City Health Department and a few others.
At the time, Portsmouth was only the second Syringe Exchange Program in Ohio, with Cleveland being the other.
When asked what she attributed the growth to Brachett said, “What happened in 2014 and 2015 was that we closed the Suboxone Clinic. Our numbers had dwindled way down before that time period.”
She said once the clinic closed the program, numbers went up dramatically.
Since its inception, the program has gained a reputation and trust within the addiction community.
“People still view this as maybe, a bad thing. I always tell people it’s a good and bad program. It’s bad that we have to have one, but it’s really good that we have one in place,” Brachett said. “If we’re exchanging that many syringes and we’re allowing everyone to participate. It means that many syringes are not being thrown down the sewers, not being thrown out of cars or on sidewalks.”
She said one of the other advantages of the program, is the health department is able to help with minor medical issues at the exchange.
“We can help elevate some of the people going to the emergency rooms, because people are utilizing the programs of the health department,” Brachett said.
Because Portsmouth has had success implementing a syringe exchange program representatives from Kentucky and West Virginia have met with health department officials on how they can implement a similar program.
“Kentucky and West Virginia have come over many times and watched as we did our programs and they have made great strides in getting their programs up and running,” Brachett said. “We get numerous calls from other health departments that want to implement similar programs and we get people that want to write academic papers on the program. That’s gratifying because people are recognizing this has been a community wide grass root effort.”
When asked if she thought demand would ever dwindle Brachett said, “In my heart I would hope it would go down, but there is no quick fix for the affliction of addiction. Hope can displace despair in our community and until we can have some of those changes as well as economic changes, it’s going to be difficult to reverse those numbers.”
She said the program is run on donations and is in constant need of items such as cotton balls, band-aids and alcohol pads. These are items the health department cannot purchase, due to restrictive funding sources, Brachett added.
Donations can be accepted at the Portsmouth City Health Department, 605 Washington Street in Portsmouth.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT